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Posted on Sun, May 13, 2012 : 1:11 p.m.

Ann Arbor inventor's exhibit finds permanent home at Hands-On Museum

By Katrease Stafford


Inventor Michael Flynn poses next to his creation, the Ferrofluid Magnetoscope which is on display at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.

Melanie Maxwell I

A world-renowned interactive exhibit created by Ann Arbor inventor Michael Flynn now has a permanent home at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.

“I am thrilled to have a Ferrofluid Magnetoscope in constant use in my hometown,” Flynn said. “The magnetoscope at the Hands-On Museum is the fourth generation design of this device. It is the finest unit that I have ever sold.”

The magnetoscope is a cooperative interactive experience that allows users to control a levitating liquid sculpture by using a pair of magnet positioning handwheels above and below a puddle of ferrofluid.


The Ferrofluid Magnetoscope uses magnets to "sculpt" a magnetized liquid.

Melanie Maxwell I

Ferrofluid was developed by NASA and it was the first nano engineered material. The fluid is comprised of nanoscale, ionized dust that is in thin oil.

The exhibit is built from heavy aluminum panels that are cold and smooth to the touch, Flynn said. Equipped with large, hemispherical viewing windows and bright LED lighting inside, the exhibit gives off a science fiction and futurist look.

“When the magnets are close to the ferrofluid, it changes from a glossy black puddle into a levitating spiky blob that moves like a sea anemone,” Flynn said. “It is a captivating spectacle.”

He said refining the final design into a product that was ready for sale worldwide was a difficult process and he learned not to skimp on the cost of materials.

Flynn created the first generation magnetoscope in the fall of 2008. It debuted at the Work Gallery at the University of Michigan’s School of Art & Design, which is where he creates a lot of his inventions.

Flynn, a part-time lecturer at the School of Art & Design, said he created the exhibit because he thought it would be a valuable addition to science centers and museums.

“Ferrofluid is fun and beautiful but it is also very messy,” Flynn said. “It stains skin and clothing and carpet. So I was playing with the fluid and I knew it would make a terrific museum exhibit so I found a way to make it immaculately clean and to use very strong magnets safely.”

Initially designed as an exhibit to be used by one individual, Flynn learned that to maximize the experience users had to share their control of the upper and lower magnet controllers.

“This cooperative aspect fosters an organic sense of community through cooperative play,” he said. “ I was so impressed with this feature that I now build cooperative controls into all of my exhibits.”

The magnetoscope has been showcased worldwide including at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburg, Scotland. Flynn said it is relatively important for inventors to have their work seen on an international scale.

“One exhibition leads to another and my sales of exhibits to museums only occur after hands-on experiments of my work.” he said. “My exhibit at the Royal Botanic Gardens was held over six additional weeks. International shows provide important credentials to my career as an artist.”

In addition to Scotland, the exhibit was shown in Dublin, Ireland and in a traveling showcase in Bergamo, Italy. Three other museums and centers have purchased magnetoscopes for permanent display.

“The Detroit Maker Faire led to my first sale to the Impression Five Museum in Lansing,” Flynn said.

The magnetoscope was also sold at the Inspiria Science Fair in Norway and to the New York Hall of Science.

Mel Drumm, executive director of the Hands On Museum, said the exhibit, which is one of 250 available for viewing, is widely popular among patrons.

“It’s very popular,” Drumm said. “The exhibit is masterful at attracting people of all ages. It’s kind of a fusion of science, technology and art.”

On May 19, Flynn will debut a new exhibit, the Electrolysis Detonator, at the museum’s Tech Twilight event. Nearly 30 companies will participate in the event and Drumm is expecting between 600 to 700 people.

“There’s a whole community of people coming out,” Drumm said. “That’s the kind of night where people can come out and see these businesses that have grown here in the Ann Arbor area. It’s something that’s happening in the community and and something to inspire young people.”

Proceeds from the event will allow the museum to purchase more exhibits. Individual tickets cost $25 for adults and $10 for children. General admission to the museum during regular business hours is $10 for ages 10 and older.


Tim O.

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 2:11 p.m.

Very impressive! Can't wait to see it.

Robert Hughes

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.

Excellent job, Flynn!!


Mon, May 14, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

My 7 year old son loved it . So did I.

Gyll Stanford

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 1:13 a.m.

Congratulations Michael! This is a good example of what is needed to get young people interested in making things. Making things is SO necessary on SO many levels of society that without this activity, where would we be?

Dog Guy

Sun, May 13, 2012 : 10:49 p.m.

Drat! Just missed it! Now I have to gather the grandkids for another trip to AAH-OM.


Sun, May 13, 2012 : 10:17 p.m.

The link for the event says that it is Saturday, May 19 not May 17 as reported in the article. Also, Mr. Flynn is a great guy, I am glad to see that the museum is supporting a local inventor.